When Halo became the biggest thing since sliced bread in the gaming world, a film depicting the classic franchise would have been a no brainer, right? Say a movie version with Peter Jackson at the helm?
Obviously a major no brainer. So why didn’t it come together? Well, for starters, it would have been way too expensive, even with today’s FX technology. In fact, Universal turned it down to make Land of the Lost instead, which was a major flop, but it must have made more sense on paper to spend $100 million on that instead. To track the whole saga, you have to go back to October 2005 when the Halo script first made the rounds.
On October 5, 2005, Variety announced that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh had signed on to Halo. The deal was believed to include a seven-figure advance against gross points. Gross participation was at 15% before a director or actors were attached to the project.
Microsoft would get 10% of the gross against a $5 million advance from Universal and Fox, who were splitting the production costs and revenue. Universal would handle US distribution, Fox overseas.
Alex Garland (28 Days Later) was paid $1 million to write the script from Microsoft. Negotiations began for Halo at 11:30 in the morning. Several actors dressed up in Master Chief costumes came to the major studios with copies of the Halo script, and The Master Chiefs had to wait in the lobby while the studio executives read the script. Then each studio chief was informed of Microsoft’s terms and had 24 hours to respond.
According to Variety, the script “garnered very mixed reactions when it hit town in June” of 2005. And as the New York Times noted, Hollywood studios were “outraged at the aggressive proposal” being shopped for the film version of the popular Xbox video game.
“The intense, high-stakes talks… indicate just how big the video game business has grown – and how attuned to its power Hollywood studios have become. To many in Hollywood, it was a stunning display of hubris on behalf of CAA [the agency representing the script], and its client, Microsoft, which has a reputation of running roughshod over its rivals in the software business.”
The paper also pointed out that out of 19 video game adaptations tracked on BoxOfficeMojo, only one movie up to that point, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, made over $100 million.
Universal was also hoping to start production on Halo in June 2006 for a Summer 2007 release. When Universal and Fox eventually backed out of making Halo, it had a preliminary budget of $145 million. Jackson and Walsh wouldn’t renegotiate their deals. Microsoft said in a statement, “We are disappointed that Universal wanted to significantly renegotiate the financial points of the deal. We are already in discussions with potential partners who recognize the value of the ‘Halo’ brand.”
At the same time, Fox also halted production on the Jim Carrey comedy Used Guys, which had a high budget and big participation on the back end for its stars. Universal was also struggling with the $175 million budget of Evan Almighty, which made General Electric, the parent company of Universal, lay down the law with Universal about their budgets.
Brandon Gray, head of Box Office Mojo, told the L.A. Times, “People are still waiting for the first good movie that is based on a video game. There hasn’t been one yet. Story is not a forte of video games, and that is why they have not translated well.”
According to this report, Microsoft’s demands included that the movie’s budget could be “no less” than $75 million, “not including the fees for the actors and director.” Redmond also wanted creative control, and the studio had to pay for an MS rep to personally see every cut of the film. Universal and Fox also had to give up the merchandising rights.
The studios argued that Microsoft could finance the movie themselves, but producer Peter Schlessel said, “Microsoft does not want to be in the business of financing movies.”
Then Guillermo Del Toro got involved, and newcomer Neil Blomkamp was going to direct. Guillermo del Toro told Variety, “I was in negotiations to come onboard, but it was always on parallel with my other projects, most importantly Hellboy 2, and for artistic and personal reasons, I couldn’t let that one go.”
Del Toro said he was blown away by Neil Blomkamp’s demo reel, and added, “The Halo he’s attracted to is great news to the fans of the game who are into the Master Chief aspect.” (When this incarnation of Halo fell apart, Blomkamp went on to make his feature debut with the acclaimed sci-fi flick District 9).
This incarnation of Halo at Universal is indeed dead, and several years ago, Stuart Beattie, screenwriter of Pirates of the Caribbean and Collateral, went on a one person crusade to get a Halo film made, writing a script on spec and trying to push it through to a major studio. When you lookup Beattie on IMDB, Halo is listed with several question marks next to it.
As Ben Fritz, who reported on Halo extensively for Variety and now writes about gaming for the L.A. Times told me: “The budget was getting out of hand. The studios all felt that the amount of money they would have to spend was becoming too risky compared to what they thought they could make with the film. It was simple economics.
“The advantage with Peter Jackson is he’s a very successful name, and his movies have appealed to a broad audience, on the other hand, he’s an expensive element to add to your film, and it’s already a film that needs a lot of special effects. So I think it was pure economics was the reason. They couldn’t make it for a price they considered to be logical.
“Halo sold a lot of video games, that’s a good starting point,” Fritz continues, “but is it a property that will turn into a good story? Does it have compelling characters that will appeal to people outside the gamer audience? You have to remember, every video game bought generates $50-60 dollars, and a movie ticket is $10, so you need to generate the same amount of money, you need to bring in five times as many people. So the amount of people who buy a game are just not enough to support a successful film, certainly not a big budget effects film.”